Wherever you go during your China vacation – you'll be able to sample the local tea. As you'll discover on your China trip; tea is a serious business in China and you'll never travel far from a tea market or a tea shop. If you'd like to enjoy China's favorite beverage from a unique perspective on your tour – why not check out our list of 10 things you might not know about China and tea?
- You'd have to travel back over 5,000 years to find the first cup of tea in China. It's said that the Emperor Shen Nong discovered how nice tea was to drink when tea leaves fell in his boiled water from a nearby tea plant.
- Another trip of over 3,000 years into China's past would be required to find the first cultivate tea plant; it's in Yunnan (the South Western most province of China).
- Would you believe that tea was not popularized as a drink until 200 B.C? If you'd have taken a tour of China before then – you'd have found it used almost uniquely as a medicine or occasionally the leaves would be found on a menu as a food item.
- The first tea house would have appeared in the Tang Dynasty period; you'd have had to have booked your vacation in around 600-900 A.D. to have had a cup there.
- The "Cha Jing" was the very first guide to preparing tea and it was written by Lu Yu in China nearly 1,000 years ago. It's an interesting trip through the culture of tea and its importance to society even all that time ago.
- Tea didn't make it to Europe from China until the late 16th century. It is said to have been transported there by a Jesuit Priest called Jasper de Cruz. Given that Jasper was Portuguese it may be that the tea was shipped from Macau.
- The name of tea in Chinese is "cha" and this name is commonly used in many other tea drinking cultures such as Russia. The word "tea" is similar to the way that the Chinese of Xiamen pronounce the word in their local dialect.
- There are 5 distinct categories of tea in China. Green tea (which is the most prevalent), black tea (which is similar to most Western tea), oolong teas, white tea and post-fermentation teas. Each category may use the same raw product but processes and/or ferments it in a different way.
- China is perhaps unsurprisingly the largest producer of tea on earth and nearly 30% of all cups of tea in the world originate there. India is the other major producer of tea.
- If you'd like a cup of the world's most expensive tea; you can find it in Sichuan on your China vacation. The tea comes from Ya'an province and it's expensive because the tea plant is fertilized with panda droppings! How much is expensive? One cup is currently around 1,000 RMB or $200 USD!
As you can see wherever you travel in China, the Chinese are among the most industrious people on earth. On your China vacation, you’ll see the industrial landscape created by the current modernization of the nation particularly if your China tour reaches Beijing. Yet, China (as you’ll discover on your trip) has a reputation for copying in the modern world rather than creating. We’d like to show you some of the products that China has created and the world has merely forgotten about their origin.
- After a hot day’s travel round the Great Wall or the Terracotta Warriors you’ll probably want to sit down somewhere cool and enjoy one of China’s greatest creations – ice cream. They were eating ice-cream in China nearly 3 millennia ago and it was the Italian explorer, Marco Polo, who “discovered” it on his tour of China and brought it back to Europe who popularized the treat elsewhere.
- Another treat during your China vacation will be to stop and enjoy a nice cold Chinese beer like Tsing Tao. The Chinese were making alcoholic beverages over 4,000 years ago! During the time of the Xia Dynasty beer was drunk everywhere in the region. There’s no mention of beer in Western history until the 12th Century in Italy.
- If it starts to rain during your China trip then the umbrella you used to protect yourself from the downpour was also invented in China. It was invented for a Wei Dynasty Emperor to protect him from the sun and the rain back in the 5th century A.D.
- Then there’s the ultimate China vacation souvenir – porcelain ware. Porcelain is a unique ceramic product which relies on an awful lot of heat from the kiln to deliver the whiteness of the end product. It was invented during the Sui Dynasty period.
- If you’ve ever enjoyed a game of dominoes, then you have the Chinese to thank for it. The first dominoes were created in China in the year 1100 A.D.
- We may not like to mention this stuff in public but we’re all grateful for its existence; toilet paper. This was invented in the 6th century A.D. in China and was mentioned in an historical chronicle (the scholars of the time were very pleased about this). By the 14th century 10 million toilet rolls a year were being manufacture in a single Chinese province!
- The earthquake detector. Surely not? Yes, back in the year 132 A.D. Chang Heng developed a seismograph that would have been able to detect earthquakes. It took nearly 1,700 years before another attempt would be made at this in the West.
- The clock; if you need to know the time on your China tour the reason that someone can tell you is because of the invention of Yi Xing back in the Tang Dynasty period. The world’s first mechanical clock appeared in China in the 7th century.
- The Rocket was invented in the 10th century A.D. as a weapon of war. They were made as paper tubes full of gunpowder.
- The toothbrush was also invented in China in 1498. It may not have been that nice to use though – it was made using hog’s hair for bristles…
A China tour is more than just a vacation, it’s a way of getting in touch with China’s rich cultural heritage. As you travel through China you’ll see that Chinese culture is expressed in many different ways across the nation. However, there are some constants on your China trip and we’ve picked 7 that should help you feel that you’re in China no matter the surprises thrown at you by the locality.
- Wu shu or Kung Fu. There’s nothing that says “China” better than this distinct and unique martial art. It’s practiced all over the country and you only need travel to a local park to see it’s closely related cousin Tai Chi being practiced in the mornings during your vacation.
- Chinese language. At first glance you might think but “hang on if my trip takes me to Southern China – they speak Cantonese and if my tour goes to Northern China – they speak Mandarin how are they similar?” It’s true that the spoken languages vary greatly but the written forms are nearly identical. The calligraphy found throughout China is a true hallmark of the Chinese culture and it doesn’t matter which variant of Chinese is being spoken for that to remain true.
- Sun Tzu. The most famous Chinese cultural export is a military manual. Sun Tzu’s the Art of War is not just an insight into ancient Chinese culture but it also offers insight into how to conduct yourself in business. It’s a must read for any Harvard MBA for example.
- Food. Chinese food may be divided into 8 major regional schools and dozens of sub-schools etc. It doesn’t matter. Eating together is a great unifier in China. Wherever you go on your travels you’ll be able to enjoy fresh, well-prepared and tasty food. The Chinese themselves often choose their vacation destinations for the culinary possibilities they offer.
- China’s most famous person is Mao Zedong. You’ll be able to visit his mausoleum in Beijing. His image appears throughout China and while he may not be so highly regarded outside of China – within the country he is accorded the deepest respects. His policies and writings have had a huge impact on the lives of over a billion people – that’s a truly astonishing achievement.
- TCM or Traditional Chinese Medicine. You don’t have to believe in TCM to find it fascinating. In fact it may be best to treat it as an interesting diversion rather than pinning your hopes of a cure on it. You’ll find TCM practitioners on nearly every street in the country and their remedies are fascinating and peculiar. The principle of keeping the body in balance is simple but the expression can be deeply complex.
- The Giant Panda. There’s no symbol of China’s culture more loved around the world than the Giant Panda. If you want to see them in the wild – you’ll need to go to Chengdu. However, pandas in captivity (which are usually kept as part of a breeding program) are an indicator of a deep friendship with that country and the Chinese people. That’s the only way to get a panda – to have China, as a nation, give it to you.
If your China tour is heading to Beijing then you’ll be spending some time in Tiananmen Square. You can easily take in China’s National Museum on this part of your vacation. It’s on the eastern side of the square. There’s nowhere else on your China trip where you can find as many interesting items from China's history. Here’s what to look out for when you travel:
- The world’s largest bronze vessel from the Shang Dynasty period (that’s 1400 B.C. to 1100 B.C). This comes from Anyang a city in China’s Henan province. It was, as with many of China’s most famous attractions, including the Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an (a top tour destination), discovered by farmers. It was unearthed in 1939 and made the trip to the museum in the 1970s. It weighs nearly 1 metric tonne and is a striking testament to China’s technologically advanced state at that time.
- If you’d prefer to tangle with Ancient Chinese Fashion on your vacation then you really can’t miss the Jin Lu Yu Yi on your tour of the museum. It’s a complete jade suit that would have been worn by the Prince of Zhongshan nearly 2,000 years ago! It made world news when it was discovered in China back in 1968. Why? It contains nearly 2,500 individual jade plates and nearly a kilo of gold thread! It’s truly amazing.
- Travel even further back into China’s past and look for the Hongshan Jade Dragon a carving from nearly 8,000 years ago! It was found in Inner Mongolia and you’ll be amazed at the level of detail and skill displayed in this truly ancient work. The dragon’s mane is blowing in the wind, it’s body curves (suggesting that it might have been used as a handle of some description).
- More primitive but attention grabbing art is to be found as you travel the corridors of China’s National Museum; keep your eyes peeled for the “Jar Showing a Stork with a Fish and a Stone Axe” which may not be the most imaginative title for a piece but the jar itself is from the Yangshao Neolothic Period and is both fun to look at and representative of the world that the Yangshao inhabited. They would have been hunters and fishermen in order to survive in that brutal period and it’s quite amazing that they would have had the time to make something so lovely.
- One of our favorite pieces is the Tang Sai Cai Qi a truly splendid figurine excavated in Shaanxi in 1957. It’s a Tang Dynasty piece probably from the 7th or 8th century. It’s a camel with a group of musicians and a dancing figure in the center on the camel’s back. The detail is quite extraordinary and the colors (for a piece as old as this) are still bold and attention grabbing. It was probably a comment on the trade and international relations of China back in that time.
As you're planning your China tour and deciding which places to see on your China vacation, why not have some fun and collect a little China trivia for your trip? You can always share it with others during your travel in China and even impress a few locals with your knowledge. Here are ten things that everyone should know about China:
- The Chinese, as you'll soon see on your travels, like a drink. The etiquette in most places is simple the host raises his glass, says; "gan bei", you say; "gan bei" and then you both knock the contents of the glass back in one hit. It's perhaps unsurprising given this that China consumes nearly 40% of the world's hard liquor supply.
- China has a bad reputation for pollution in its cities. Pollution won't spoil your vacation in any way – you won't spend enough time in China for it to bother you. However, it might be due to the fact that China burns 1 in every 2 tonnes of coal consumed in the world today.
- This also explains why China is now the number one producer of carbon dioxide in the world. The Chinese government is investing heavily in green technology to get this under control and the country is the world's biggest investor in alternative energy too.
- Is China getting richer? You bet. In fact China has recently become the world's largest consumer of gold. If you want to buy gold during your tour please be careful and only buy it from a reputable dealer – China is also the largest producer of fake products in the world.
- Carrying on from there and with the same warning. China buys nearly 25% of the world's luxury brand name goods. If you want the "real thing" during your trip head to the high-end luxury shopping malls and even there make sure that you inspect an item carefully before purchasing it.
- When it comes to luxury watches – they're even more popular and China buys 1 in 3 of the world's high end watches.
- A bad habit but one you can't really avoid on a China vacation; the Chinese smoke 4 in 10 of all the world's cigarettes. Tobacco controls around the nation are nearly non-existent though 5 star hotels in major cities have been introducing smoking bans in public places.
- All that economic growth requires a certain amount of raw material and wherever iron ore can be found; 60% of it will eventually travel to China to be turned into steel and then into other consumer and business goods.
- Pork is extremely popular in Chinese cookery and with a billion plus mouths to feed; it will come as no surprise that the Chinese eat more than half the world's pigs.
- It's not just Westerners that like convenient food. Not every Chinese family makes its own noodles and in fact more than 40% of the world's instant noodles are eaten in China.
If you're wondering what to eat during your China vacation don't worry there's plenty for everyone. As you'll see on your China tour – Chinese cookery is endlessly varied. We've picked ten simple dishes here for you to try during your China trip they can be found almost everywhere you travel in China too.
- Red-Braised Belly Pork. We know that some Westerners flinch when they first see the amount of fat served on belly pork; however please don't be put off. This is a China tour favorite – it's an elegant combination of all the flavors of the pork combined with sugar, soy, a few spices and some local wine. It goes particularly well with noodles or rice.
- If you'd like something with a certain hint of home during your China vacation then the fried peanuts should do the trick. They are usually mixed with a little salt, a little spice and some sugar and they're served at nearly every restaurant in the nation. They are a little challenging to eat with chopsticks though.
- You can't travel to China and miss out on Beijing Duck. It's served very differently from most Chinese restaurants in the West but it's just as tasty. Pancakes, soybean paste, spring onions, etc. are all available and it tends to be incredibly well presented in most places.
- "Fish-flavored shredded pork" is a bit of a misnomer as the dish has never seen a fish or indeed anything resembling seafood in its life. The spices used to prepare it are more commonly used in seafood preparation – hence the name.
- A trip to China isn't complete without having scrambled eggs and tomato and given that it's a huge favorite – it's easy to get for breakfast anywhere in the country. The Chinese tend to eat it all round the clock though.
- Chicken soup. If there's one thing we've found people agree on during a China vacation; it's that Chinese chicken soup is superb. It takes at least day to prepare and the rich broth, soft chicken with a hint of ginger and black pepper is both nourishing and a taste sensation.
- Potatoes with vinegar. We don't know if it's true that this lowers the blood pressure but it is an interesting dish. It's very easy to cook but takes an age to prepare. Crisp with salt and sour edge it's quite lovely.
- Mitten/Hairy Crabs. These are a big deal when they're in season and if you're lucky your China tour will be when they are in season. Steamed crabs are very good to eat and most places keep serving them until you're full.
- One for the vegetarians this time; Braised Tofu. Not to be confused with the somewhat less easy on the nostrils – stinky tofu. This is usually served in soy sauce with a hint of onions and sugar.
- Cucumbers and soybean paste – this is nearly ubiquitous throughout the country and may be the healthiest food around with next to no calories.
You won't find much in the way of Zhejiang Cuisine on a Yangtze River Cruise because it's the food of the Yangtze Delta rather than the body of water in Sichuan where most China tours go to. You can however, try Zhejiang Cuisine on your China vacation if your China travel takes you to Beijing. This is the last stop on our trip round China's food cultures in the capital and it's one well worth making yourself.
About Zhejiang Cuisine
Zhejiang is last but not least on our tour of China's food in Beijing – it's from Zhejiang province in the South of China and it's considered to be extremely mellow and low on the grease.
There are three major styles of Zhejiang cookery; Hangzhou, Ningbo and Shaoxing. It's probably fair to say that the best known and most liked in the rest of China is Hangzhou style. It has a clean, distinct taste with it's prepared to have a delicate appearance. It uses a mix of flash-frying, stir-frying, deep-frying and braising. Locals say that it's based on “clear, fresh, tender, delicate and pure ingredients”. That's probably because of the preference for both seafood and freshwater catches in dishes.
If you're going to see the pandas on your vacation then you'll know that they eat bamboo and in Hangzhou food there's plenty of bamboo shoots so you can get a taste of what China's favorite animal enjoys for dinner. Bamboo shoots aren't as popular in other forms of Chinese food you might encounter on your trip.
Ningbo food tends to rely on stewing, baking and steaming and there's an element of saltiness that's not food in other Zhejiang food. Ningbo food also tends to be very soft and easy to chew.
Shaoxing food incorporates more poultry than seafood and aims for fragrant but crisp dishes with a certain glutinous texture to some dishes. If you were to travel to Zhejiang Province you'd see why China refers to it as “the land of milk and honey” because of the wealth of natural ingredients available locally. You can be certain that if you try Zhejiang food anywhere on your China trip that you'll be assured of a widely varied menu to choose from.
Where to Eat Zhejiang Food in Beijing?
We'd recommend Wahaha which is owned by one of China's wealthiest men – though it's worth noting that the price of the food isn't expensive. In fact you probably won't be able to spend much more than 150 RMB a head in Wahaha – you'll be too full by then. Wahaha is also the name of a locally bottled water.
It is a slightly dressier restaurant than some of the other places you may go on your tour and it's worth heading to the smarter end of casual to make the right impression here. Try the roast pigeon. It's excellent. Be warned roast pigeons are a little small and you might need a few of them. The cashew shrimp is excellent and we also recommend the Dongpo Pork.
You'll see a lot of interesting things on a China vacation and it's easy to forget the people when you're trying to fit as much in to a China tour as possible before you go back home. Yet as you travel around China – you should find that the people are the most interesting part of a China trip. You can get in touch with some of China's culture best by watching it take place around you. Wherever you visit in China (well apart from during a Yangtze River Cruise); you should be able to see some Kung Fu (or Wu Shu in the South of China). Here's ten things you might not now about this martial art:
- Kung Fu was not used by the military. It was designed as a purely defensive martial art for use by every day folk in China. Today most people take a trip to their local gym to practice Kung Fu for fitness or body building.
- Kung Fu is actually “Gong Fu” in Mandarin. You won't need to speak Mandarin during your China tour – your guide will handle that for you but “Gong Fu” literally means – “work hard”. The name conveys the effort it takes to master the discipline.
- You could travel back in time for 6,000 years and find early variations of Kung Fu in China. Back then it would have included some forms of hunting techniques as well as self-discipline.
- Kung Fu is most often seen practiced with bare hands but it's perfectly permissible to use weapons as part of the art too.
- Kung Fu is a system and it's important that new learners get some training from a school – otherwise they could really hurt themselves.
- Most Chinese people that you meet during your China vacation will not practice Kung Fu. The martial art is a casualty of the modern age and there are fewer practitioners each year.
- There are many well-known practitioners of Kung Fu. The best known in the West include Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Yip Man, Wong Fei-Hung and Zhang Sanfeng. It's worth looking up some of the local Kung Fu movies in China – they are visually stunning and even if you can't understand the words, the actions are usually clear enough to follow.
- Kung Fu has many different styles. The one most people want to see during a China vacation is the famous Shaolin Kung Fu but Tai Chi, Wing Chun, Qigoing, and Southern Fist are all very popular too.
- Kung Fu was relatively unknown outside of China until it was popularized in film during the 1970s. It might feel like we've always known about Kung Fu but that's not the case. The Way of the Dragon was the first film to really bring the martial art to Western audiences.
- There's a whole field of literature dedicated to Kung Fu in China; it's called Wuxia and it's very popular particularly with younger Chinese men.
The Terracotta Army is a big reason for many people to book their China tour. While a China vacation offers many interesting places to see and do, the army which is found outside of Xi'an in Northern China is simply incredible. If you're going to travel to Xi'an during your China trip then we've put a very quick reference guide together with the key facts about this Chinese wonder.
- The army may be old but you don't have to travel far back in China's history to a point when no-one knew it existed. It was discovered in a field by a farmer back in 1947. The farmers were supposed to be digging a well when they accidentally discovered the biggest archeological find in China ever.
- You'd have to take a trip far back into the past to see the army being built though. It was constructed over 2,200 years ago to protect the mausoleum of China's First Emperor – Qin Shi Huang.
- You can see both the army and the mausoleum during your China vacation as they are only 1.5 kilometers apart. It's not too far to walk on most days and there's always transport around if it's too hot.
- The Chinese historian of ancient times, Sima Qian, wrote in wondrous terms of the treasures that could be found within the mausoleum. He may have been carried away because we don't think you'll see any “rivers of Mercury” during your China tour's stop in Xi'an.
- The army is big. There are nearly 8,000 soldiers excavated to date and then there are horses, carts, etc. there too.
- The detail on the soldiers is truly incredible. Each one was carved by hand and every single soldier's face is unique and has its' own expression. You really can't see anything quite as extraordinary anywhere else on a China trip.
- The army is still in the same position as it was prior to excavation and that means it's ready for war! The whole army is in a classical battle formation from ancient China. Look for the cavalry and the infantry units being supported by troops in chariots. They would have been a formidable power and it shows how the First Emperor secured his rule of China.
- The soldiers and figures are not made of a single piece. In fact, each one would have had each limb created in a separate workshop and then been assembled on site. Imagine how much work that must have involved and the care and attention that the craftsmen would have had to bring to bear on the job.
- The Emperor Qin was so powerful that the work began on the army and mausoleum before he had reach the age of 13!
- A final and slightly gruesome China vacation fact about the army. When the Emperor Qin died the “lucky” workmen still working on the army and mausoleum were entombed alive alongside him in order to serve him in the afterlife.
Our tour of all China's regional cookery schools in Beijing moves on again today. If you can't fit a Yangtze River Cruise or a trip to Chengdu or Chongqing into your China vacation – then you can still try the most famous of China's cuisines in the capital. There's so much great food in China and there's no need to miss out on any of it if you're going to travel to Beijing.
About Sichuan Cuisine
Sichuan cuisine is the most popular of all the schools of cookery in China; it's served nearly everywhere in the country and you can't take a China vacation without making a trip to a Sichuan restaurant. Sichuan food is easily identified by its hot and spicy flavors and you'll find that it makes incredible use of peppers and chilies. If you are worried about how spicy a Sichuan meal may be – it's perfectly OK to ask the wait staff to keep the heat down during cooking.
Ingredients are always selected for their freshness and Sichuan cuisine is a tour de force of everything that Chinese kitchens have to offer. You can always rely on being able to access a wide range of ingredients including poultry, fish, pork, beef, tofu and vegetarian options. While there are many methods of cooking in Sichuan cuisine by far the most predominant is fast-fried food though sautéing, steaming, and baking are also popular.
Why is Sichuan cuisine so popular in China? It's the unique blend of hotness, sourness and ensuing numbness that the spicy dishes provide. Many meals come with a thick gravy with a complex blend of flavors. It is said that this means that Sichuan food provides "one dish with one flavor but a hundred dishes with a hundred different flavors".
The most authentic Sichuan food can be found during a Yangtze River Cruise or on a trip to the two biggest cities in Sichuan; Chongqing and Chengdu. If you aren't going to make it to those destinations then our recommendation for Sichuan food in Beijing is as follows:
Where to Eat Sichuan Food in Beijing?
Chuan Ban is the best place for Sichuan food in China's capital; it's a home away from home for Sichuan's local government representatives and it practically oozes authenticity with every bite.
Like most government restaurants it's a little Spartan on the decoration front and there's absolutely no need to book. However, we'd recommend arriving outside of the busiest hours as you may need to wait up to 30 minutes for a seat at lunchtime and early evenings.
If you're not sure what to have; then the Sichuan Hotpot might be the perfect way to go. Take a “half and half" version with a non-spicy and a spicy broth and cook whatever ingredients you like at the table. Otherwise the Kung Pao chicken (which should be a familiar dish to most Americans) or the twice-cooked fatty pork are both excellent. For those looking for something exotic to try; the ox lung makes for a decidedly different starter. The restaurant is excellent value and you'll pay no more than 150 RMB per person for a huge meal.
If you can't decide whether to take a Yangtze River Cruise as part of your China tour package then this might help. We've found that many people say it's their favorite part of their China vacation and that travel on a boat in China combined with the majesty of Asia's mightiest river is simply unforgettable. Here are some great reasons to take a Yangtze River Cruise:
- The Yangtze is the longest river in Asia and the 3rd longest in the world; along with the Nile and the Amazon it's simply an incredible water course
- The three gorges region – this may be the most beautiful stretch of the river, it's a must see part of China and the number one reason for you to include a Yangtze River Cruise in your vacation. It covers a stretch of nearly 200 kilometers of river and the geography is so varied that you will spend most of the time gazing at the scenery in open-mouthed wonder.
- Countries live and breathe on their rivers. They have been the source of nourishment, transport and trade for millennia. You can't begin to understand China until you've seen river life. Today, there are still small boats plying their trade and competing with the more-modern vessels needed to support China's stratospheric growth. Travel along the river and see the last insights into China's ancient river culture before it's swept away by the new industrial age.
- The three gorges dam; is the world's largest hydro-electric power station. You can't believe the scale and incredible feat of engineering that it is until you've seen it from the water on a Yangtze River Cruise. It's the most striking sight in China and the noise made from the water cascading from it is incredible.
- The Shibaozhai Pagoda looms over the water and your trip isn't complete until you've seen it. If you can get away to climb to the 12th floor you can meet the King of Heaven! The whole building is dedicated to the three kingdoms period of China and it's one of the most interesting temple complexes in the country.
- Shennong Stream offers a completely different kind of sight… naked boatmen. Well, to be truthful you're not likely to see them as they tend to shy away from visitors but they are there if you look carefully. However, the best reason to see Shennong Stream is the hanging coffins left by the Tujia ethnic group. There's nothing quite like them anywhere else in China.
- Then there's the cruise ship itself. Travelling in luxury on the river is a wonderful experience. The boats are comfortable and modern. You can catch a few rays on the sundeck between taking pictures of all the wonderful sights along the banks. You can get a great Chinese meal and enjoy it in the company of fellow travelers. The social aspect of travel is often neglected elsewhere because it's difficult to coordinate individual schedules – when you're on a cruise it's a great place to meet and make new friends.
If you're planning your China vacation and finding it hard to work out which places to include on your China tour – we think you should consider a trip to Chengdu in China's Sichuan province. Here's some great reasons to do so before you book your China travel experience:
- Chengdu is central to China's Daoist faith. If you haven't had any experience of this belief system before you travel then it's a great place to learn more.
- The Wangjiang Tower Park is in Chengdu it's a 14th century (and onwards) memorial to Xue Toa the leading female poet of China's Tang Dynasty. It's an enchanting place and one that's worth making the trip to Chengdu for, particularly if you enjoy a little relaxation and mediation.
- If you take a tour a little distance outside of Chengdu you can visit the Tiantai Mountain the only syncline hills in all of China. There is a chain of 7 waterfalls here and they are considered to be the most spectacular in the nation.
- The Wuhou temple is the only one in China which makes offerings to both an emperor and a minister and it also contains the largest collection of relics from the “Three Kingdoms” period of China's history.
- The poet Du Fu's home on the Western edge of the city is a tranquil paradise. If you want to connect with the country's literary history during your vacation this is the perfect place to do it.
- The ancient town of Luo Dai; this is not on many foreign tour itineraries and yet it's a lovely place and one of the few Hakka settlements in this part of China. It's incredibly well preserved and many of the streets and buildings are over 1,000 years old.
- It's a bit of a drive out of Chengdu but the Xiling Snow Mountain resort offers the chance to ski, skate and see some of the incredible biodiversity of this corner of China. There's a lot of very rare wildlife and plant life to be found.
- It doesn't get any older than the Jinsha Relics in Chengdu. These date back nearly 2 millennia BC and the 300,000 square meter excavation site offers a fascinating insight into the country before it was known as China. The ivory, gold and jade work on display are incredible.
- The Dujiangyan Irrigation System the only ancient world hydropower project in the world. It's also an area of outstanding natural beauty – it's still used to today to help irrigate over half-a-million hectares of land.
- Mount QIngcheng, a UNESCO heritage site and one of the most important mountains for Daoists in the world. There are 36 peaks, dozens of caves and the landscape is literally strewn with temples. It's an unmissable experience.
- The giant panda. If you want to connect with China's most famous animal symbol – you have to travel to Chengdu. It's here that you can find the breeding sanctuary and care programs for pandas. It's the number one reason to visit the city but as you can see; there are many other good reasons to include Chengdu in your itinerary.
A trip to China almost always involves travel to see the Teracotta Warriors in Xi'an. They are one of the most ancient and archetypal sights in all of China. However, Xi'an's not a city that everyone is familiar with and some people wonder what they'll do during the nights when their China tour reaches the city. The good news is that there's plenty to do in the city at night and here are some great ideas for your China vacation:
The Fountain and Music Show (Near the Big Wild Goose Pagoda)
If your China vacation is between January and November then you can catch this rather eclectic show near the Big Wild Goose Pagoda every evening. The fountains are spread out over an area of more than 100,000 square meters – so don't worry that you won't be able to see anything, there's plenty of room. It also has the largest acoustic complex in the world and that means you'll also be able to hear everything too.
This is one of the few occasions where China can match American technological muscle and if you enjoy trips to Disney sound and light shows; you'll very much enjoy this.
The Tang Dynasty Show
If you'd prefer a little more history with your sounds and lights on your China tour then head to the Tang Dynasty Palace just before 7 p.m. There's a dumpling dinner for you to feast on before the show and then there's a charming (though not as technically thrilling) show that incorporates the best of Imperial Chinese culture. You won't see anything else like this on your China vacation – so if you get the chance it's very much worth attending.
Bars in Xi'an
Xi'an has somewhat less exposure to Western influences than other places you might travel to in China. That means going out at night tends to involve spending time in Chinese nightclubs. The plus points of this are that foreigners are very welcome in these places. You will feel completely secure and you may find that you make local friends very quickly – do not be surprised if everyone wants to buy you a drink. However, the music is generally very loud and very dance-music oriented. Don't expect to hear traditional Chinese music in a nightclub.
Your options include:
Xi'an Diwang Club (Beilin District)
Boasting the best sound system in town; this is where the cool kids hang out and the price tags on the drinks reflect that. It's not cheap but you won't have a bad night out. It closes at midnight though so don't leave it too late to get started.
One Plus One (Beilin District)
If you want to meet Xi'an's tiny expat community on your China tour then many of them can be found in One Plus One – it's one of the only places where you may hear a little Western music too. It's easy to find too as all the taxi drivers know it.
Shaanxi Ro yal Nightclub (Beilin District)
A little lower down the class scale but still a great night out. Drinks are cheaper and the crowd a little less prententious than in the Xi'an Diwang Club.
If you're going to enjoy a Yangtze River Cruise on your China vacation then you'll be stopping in the charming city of Chengdu. If that's the case you might want to enjoy the nightlife after a relaxing tour along China's longest river. Here are some of the places you might want to visit during your China trip's time in Chengdu:
It can be comforting to get a feel of home during a long tour of China. It's also quite nice to talk to some of the local expats on a vacation and get a feel for some of the “inside tips” on any city in China. It's also quite handy to visit Western-style bars when you don't speak very much Mandarin and are a bit worried that you won't be able to order a drink.
Shamrocks (Renmin Nan Lu)
This place is one of the more upmarket Western bars in Chengdu. It's near the American consulate and attracts a well-settled expat scene rather than a boisterous hard drinking crowd. They have occasional live acts and on special occasions you may find a themed-party on the go too. It's a fairly standard Irish pub in most respects and you should be able to enjoy some good conversation.
Moonies (Shangri-La Hotel)
You may not want to spend your time in hotel bars during your trip but this is one of the better examples of a hotel bar in China. There's often live music but rarely any dancing. It attracts a mixed professional and young crowd and it's a great place to unwind after your Yangtze River Cruise.
Macchu Picchu (Fang Hua Heng Jie)
This is definitely off the main tourist route and you'll need to make sure your taxi knows how to get there. It's a Dutch owned and operated place that's frequented by locals and expats alike. It's a nice place to hang out and enjoy a quiet drink in Chengdu.
Little Bar (Fang Qin Jie)
If you'd like to get a little music in during your China vacation then Little Bar may be the venue for you. It was originally designed to attract the expat crowd but the wealth of Chinese rock bands that come through its' doors have led to the place becoming a local hangout. There are still the occasional foreign faces to be seen but this is now a local venue promoting local talent. It's definitely worth a visit.
Jellyfish (Kehua Bei Lu)
This is the stopping off point for many local nightclubs as a pre-party drinks location. It's full of young and wealthy locals looking to strut their funky stuff in front of their peers. You won't be surprised that it tends to be a bit noisy and a lot smoky inside. However, if you fancy a wild night out in Chengdu and making a few local friends in the process you could do much worse than Jellyfish. Unleash your inner animal and enjoy the contrast compared to the tranquility of your Yangtze River Cruise!